a special #FathersDay review of HEADSHOT

Everyone has a father or father figure in their life they need to show appreciation towards. Some people send a card, some go fishing on a serene, picturesque lake and some go a murderous revenge rampage.

Headshot is about the last one.

Over the past few years the question of “What happened to the martial arts film?” has been on the lips and hearts of action film fans all across America. We used to have Seagal, Van Damme, Norris, Chan and Li. Now we’re left with cgi’d “action” scenes with a million edits and no real flow or style. For whatever reason that market dried up in America, but it is alive and well in southeast Asia. In the early 2000’s Thailand gave us Ong-Bak and Tony Jaa. Over a decade later Indonesia gave us the The Raid and now Headshot.

Synopsis: “After an amnesiac is nursed back to health by a doctor, his past comes back to haunt him.”

Directed by the same team who gave us The Raid and introduced the world to Iko Uwais, Headshot is far more substantive and bad ass than the synopsis would lead you to believe. It is a story of a manipulative power-mad father figure, his cult-like following of Spartan-like orphans (all grown up) and Ishmael’s attempt at redemption. Other characters also deal with similar internal struggles – having to choose between loyalty to the only father they’ve ever known and the possible realization that they’re just pawns on his chessboard (Julie Estelle as Rikka was a standout performance in this regard! Especially during the beach scene). Chelsea Ilsan as Ailin really holds the emotional core of the film together – her role never veers into the stereotypical “damsel in distress.” In fact, in many ways she ends up being just as big a hero as Uwais.

Headshot is deceptively deep.

But who cares!? The action is some of the best you can watch on Netflix or at your local cineplex. Stamboel and Tjahjanto imbue the kind of artistry and style into each fight sequence that has more imagination than a dozen superhero movies combined. This is the kind of action film sorely missing from Hollywood (thankfully we’ve got films like John Wick and Atomic Blonde attempting to revitalize this lost art).

When you watch the sparsely-edited, inventively-choreographed fight scenes it truly pulls you in and elevates the intensity and emotion of each moment. The unblinking eye of the camera’s long takes adds an extra layer of verisimilitude usually missing from these kinds of films. A machete going into someone’s radial bone or a typewriter being jammed into their hand mid-punch retains significantly more emphasis than superpowers folding an entire city block onto itself.

Every aspect of this film from the writing to the acting to the shot composition are all something Hollywood execs could take a page from, but the breakout star of this one was Sunny Pang, who played “Lee,” the cult-leader like father figure who imposes himself physically and mentally throughout the entire movie. This character was cool as the other side of the pillow (like, “will undoubtedly be in a Tarantino film” cool) and more intimidating than any villain we’ve seen in years.  When people talk about that “it” factor – he’s got it. His portrayal of a father figure/leader is almost like an evil spirit, beyond a mere mortal’s touch and makes his cult of assassins seem all the more believable and intimidating. If Lee, this unstoppable demon, is their King then these people are bad news.

So, happy Father’s Day! Be grateful you don’t have a dad like “Lee” to put you down a well and make you fight for survival amongst your brothers and sisters.

Headshot is available on Netflix right now.